The coach of Quinnipiac University's volleyball team testified Monday that the Connecticut school manipulated the rosters of its athletic teams to make them appear more in line with the gender makeup of the school's population.
Robin Sparks appeared in federal court in Bridgeport as part of a lawsuit she and several team members filed last month that accuses the school of failing to provide female students with equal opportunity to participate in varsity intercollegiate athletics.
They're asking U.S. District Judge Stefan Underhill for an injunction that would prevent Quinnipiac from eliminating the women's volleyball program while the matter is in court. Sparks said Quinnipiac drops athletes from the rosters of some men's teams just before their seasons begin and reinstitutes them days later to make its Title IX reports to the US Department of Education appear more gender balanced. She did not specify which teams were affected.
Jack McDonald, Quinnipiac's director of athletics and recreation, declined to respond to that allegation outside of the courthouse.
The 1972 federal Title IX law requires schools to provide equal sports access regardless of sex.
Quinnipiac has 21 Division I sports, including 10 men's programs and 11 women's programs. In March, the school announced it was ending women's volleyball, cutting men's golf and outdoor track, and promoting cheerleading to varsity status.
Sparks testified that eliminating volleyball and adding cheerleading would be a step backward for women and violates the spirit of Title IX. She said her grandmother was able to be a cheerleader.
"To me, Title IX is about giving women opportunities beyond that," she said.
The school's president, John Lahey, has denied that he was targeting female athletes when he decided which programs to cut.
American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut attorney Jon Orleans is arguing on behalf of the volleyball team that Quinnipiac has failed to provide women with the equal opportunity to participate in varsity sports.
Both Sparks and McDonald testified that the gender proportions of student athletes compared with the student body were not in compliance with Title IX. But that is not the only data the school can use to meet the overall requirements of the law.
The volleyball team, which plays in the Northeast Conference, finished last season with a 5-30 record.
Sparks, hired in 2007, and several volleyball players, testified they were assured by Quinnipiac officials that the school was committed to rebuilding the volleyball program and were angered and hurt by the March 4 announcement.
"It was just heartbreaking," Sparks said, wiping tears from her eyes.